Jamaican tortoiseshell comb set, dated 1673
Lot 9Y
An important late 17th century Jamaican engraved tortoiseshell wig comb case with a pair of combs dated 1673, possibly by Paul Bennett of Port Royal
Sold for £23,750 (US$ 39,919) inc. premium
Auction Details
An important late 17th century Jamaican engraved tortoisehell wig comb case with a pair of combsdated 1673 An important late 17th century Jamaican engraved tortoisehell wig comb case with a pair of combsdated 1673
Lot Details
An important late 17th century Jamaican engraved tortoiseshell wig comb case with a pair of combs
dated 1673, possibly by Paul Bennett of Port Royal
One side of the case engraved with a banana tree and two cactus plants amongst a hut and other vegetation, within a scrolling foliate engraved border, dated 1673 below, the reverse also engraved with a palm tree, with an alligator at its base, within a scrolling foliate border and 'Jamaica' engraved below, enclosing one wide toothed comb and the other a double sided comb, one side with medium teeth and the other with small teeth, both with similarly engraved scrolling tulio and sunflower heads and leaves, 14cm wide, 21cm high (5.5" wide, 8" high). (3)

Footnotes

  • Purchased by the current owners grandparents in the 1950's, probably from a dealer in the Cotswolds.

    This wig comb case and combs relates to a small group of objects which are some of the earliest known surviving works of art reflecting European culture from Jamaica. After England's conquest of Jamaica from the Spanish colonists in 1655 Port Royal developed into a large city and the commercial centre of Jamaica, importing goods where local prosperity thrived. This all came to an end when a massive earthquake devastated the city in 1692 and two thirds of the city was swept under the sea.

    The Institute of Jamaica has eleven of these combs, one large box with combs and one powder box, the first was purchased in London by members of the West India Committee in 1923. It was described by H.M.Cundall in The West India Committee Circular, (1923) as 'probably one of the earliest art objects in the British West Indies displaying European influence'. It was thought to have belonged to the Buccaneer, Sir Henry Morgan who was lieutenant governor of Jamaica between 1674-1682. In 1676 Sir Henry wanted to send a present to Sir William Coventry and chose, 'two large turtle-shell combes in a case the same'.

    The trees and plants on the above lot represents some of the products of the Jamaican economy of that time, the alligator is from the then newly awarded arms of Jamaica. The two sizes of comb are usual, the narrow toothed comb is thought to have been for extracting lice and the wide tooth comb for wigs.

    Of the works in the Jamaican Institute's collection it is thought that they are from the hands of two craftsmen working between 1671-84 and 1688-1692 respectively. The above lot offered here can be linked to the first, the Institute has eleven examples of his work. Other known pieces in other collections again by this first maker include the Sir Cuthbert Grundy comb case, dated 1672, a round powder box lid and comb case in a private U.S collection dated 1677 and the 'Lady Smith' casket, which is considered to be the craftsman's masterpiece.

    Philip Hart in his article Tortoiseshell Comb Cases, for the Jamaica Journal, (November 1983) reveals that relatively recent research brought to light a possible candidate for a maker. Among the list of craftsmen and tradesmen in Port Royal before 1692 there appears the name Paul Bennett, the only recorded comb maker. It is therefore possible that Bennett was the maker of this first group and possibly his son, apprentice or assistant was the maker of the second.

    Another example possibly by Bennett is in the V & A collection (524 to B-1877). See also Sotheby's New York, Important English Furniture, 16th October 2009, lot 82 (realised $20,000 hammer) for another case and pair of combs dated 1688 which is engraved with the Jamaican coat of arms.
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